A startling surge of support for Barack Obama has catapulted the Illinois senator into a virtual tie with Hillary Rodham Clinton in California's Democratic presidential primary, a Field Poll released Saturday shows.The Democratic numbers are the shocker. Clinton, a longtime California favorite, saw her once-commanding lead slip to two percentage points, 36 to 34 percent, in the new survey. That's down from the New York senator's 12 percentage point lead in mid-January and a 25 percentage point margin over Obama in October.
But with 18 percent of Democratic voters still undecided just days before Tuesday's primary, the election is still up for grabs, said Mark DiCamillo, the poll's director.
The head-to-head matchups between the Republican and Democratic candidates highlight both Clinton's loosening hold on California voters and McCain's growing strength in the state.
Clinton now clings to a bare 45 to 43 percent lead over McCain in a projected California presidential vote, down dramatically from her 17 percentage point margin just two weeks ago. Obama now holds a stronger 47 to 40 percent margin over the Arizona senator, but that's only half the 14 percentage point advantage he had in mid-January.
Obama's California campaign team said the latest polls reflect a hard-charging effort to track down potential voters in every precinct - undeterred by polls that showed the Illinois senator behind by double digits here for most of the race.The new poll shows why Obama's campaign has been targeting decline-to-state voters, who can cast ballots in the Democratic primary. While Clinton has a 37 to 31 percent lead over Obama among Democrats, Obama leads by an overwhelming 54 to 32 percent among nonpartisans, who will make up an estimated 13 percent of the primary voters.
The poll also highlights the dramatic split the Clinton-Obama battle has caused in the state's Democratic Party. Rich versus poor, young versus old, liberal versus conservative, men versus women: Each of those groups has lined up on different sides of the primary divide.
While people aged 18 to 29 back Obama by a margin of 11 percentage points, voters 65 and older support Clinton, 40 to 18 percent. Voters with household incomes of $40,000 or less back Clinton by an advantage of 11 percentage points, while those making $80,000 or more are strong Obama supporters.
Obama attracts voters who call themselves liberal, who have gone to graduate school and who are from the Bay Area, which backs him 41 to 31 percent. Clinton's strength is among conservatives and moderates, those with a high school education and residents of sprawling Los Angeles County, where she holds a 42 to 34 percent lead.
There's also a broad ethnic and gender gap between the campaigns. While white voters are split evenly between Clinton and Obama, the Illinois senator, whose late father was a black African, has a 55 to 19 percent lead among black voters, while Latinos back Clinton 52 to 19 percent.
Among men, Obama holds a 13 percentage point lead, the same advantage Clinton holds among women.
But for Clinton, even her good numbers show some ominous changes. In mid-January, the Field Poll showed her with a 19 percentage point lead among women and a huge 59 to 19 percent advantage with Latino voters. In two weeks, much of that backing has melted away.
While part of the reason for the huge number of undecided voters is last week's departure of John Edwards from the race, most of it seems to be honest angst among Democrats pressed to make a choice between two favored candidates, DiCamillo said.
"This is the Democratic rank and file having a hard time making a choice, because they like them both," he said.
The poll was based on a telephone survey of 511 likely voters in the Democratic primary and was conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points among Democrats, and plus or minus 4.2 percentage points among general election voters.
More in the San Francisco Chronicle.
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Updated: February 5. This is unbelievable! One of the two late polls gives Obama ahead by 13%, and the other Clinton by 10%!!! There are certainly questions about their methodology.